Educating acoustics

Architect academic education and acoustician’s apprenticeship

Architectural acoustics consists of theory of acoustics, human factors like ear, hearing, perception, sound and voice production, structural and environmental acoustics, noise control and experimental acoustics, and as the most important, room acoustics. The target for the architect is to create good acoustics in practice.

Architectural acoustics is a multidimensional and systemic area of knowledge, practices and realised spaces. For an architect to be an acoustician is a Vitruvian approach: The architect should know about everything related to architecture. Architectural acoustics is in the midst of architectonic form-giving: meaning, form, function, material, structure, and their quality has to be solved simultaneously. In contrast to graphical and pictorial drawing, acoustics forces the architect to more fundamental sketching so that every architectonic component and factor is in harmony*.

Acoustics, like structures, materials and building physics in general, are at the core of Vitruvian philosophy. To understand the critical quality factors of architectural form-giving, “Vitruvian building physics” should be taught during the master’s courses after three years of studies.

Basic architectural acoustics at a university should have two different courses (basic & advanced), each of 8-10 credits, and combine acoustics to every student project thereafter. A professional acoustic consultant needs both training and apprenticeship after the courses. The training goes deep to details of room, building, structure and material types and their analyses, calculations and measurements. Curricula for acoustics can be structured within weeks, and education can be started the next semester.

Architect as an acoustician – better acoustics and education

Usually acoustics has been an engineering issue during the building process. The architect produces the plan, drawings, 3D models and a scale model. In the iterative flow, the engineers check, guide and propose changes and make detail plans and calculations for the architect. Usually the architect has been considered as an artist making the façades, colours and superficial details for the visual perception. Engineers see the architect as the “Retina guy“**, and unfortunately it seems to be a common agreement: the architect stays dumb and the engineer “the professional“. Architecture and acoustics are separated when the architect needs the engineer as consultant.

This architect vs. engineer symbiosis is unstable, unfair and fundamentally delusional, and it scales to architectural structures, use of materials, acoustics and quality of buildings and the environment. The architect has to take the lead in construction as did Vitruvius, Ledoux, Gaudi, Le Corbusier and Calatrava.

Acoustics is a through-going entity in form-giving, use of materials and beauty of structures. Like a violin does not only look like a violin, it is a violin by nature, structure, materials, proportions, scale and touch. It is easy for an acoustician-architect to create bent and prestressed structures, multi-layered and curved forms, and joints, connectors and details just because they belong to the fundamentals of acoustics. These fundamentals of beauty are not used by the engineers and they can’t communicate them to the architect. Therefore the architect has to be the master of structure, material, form and form-giving. Acoustics soundly opens the world of architectural form-giving.

At approx. 1100 schools of architecture globally there are no professors to be at the same time form-givers, practitioners, theorist-intellectuals, acousticians and architects to teach and research form and form-giving. This dilemma reflects to present day low quality architecture, boring built culture and B-class acoustics.


Chart. Fields of acoustics shows the potential of architectural components in deep symbiosis of form and function: acoustics collects together the meaning and beauty to form-giving and use of structure, material, order and space.

Architectural innovation do not happen often. Mainly, under levitating and flourishing façades, there is a normal building with thick and clumsy structures and forms covered with fancy drapery. Form and meaning are rather for self-assertion than great architecture. There are two reasons for this architectonic accident: either the costs would have been too high for the genius form-giver, or (s)he was not that genius [at form-giving]. Studies of architectural acoustics could have saved us from meaningless forms and give awareness about processes and timing of right efforts of form-giving.

Architectural acoustics at Studio:Beta (lecture for NTNU architect students, 2016).

During spring 2016 an introduction lesson of architectural acoustics was given in Trondheim Norway.

16_Acoustics-Cover-lecture-students-Juhani-Risku-architect-acoustician-NTNU-Studio-Beta  16_Acoustics-Room-theater-music-church-Juhani-Risku-architect-acoustician-NTNU-Studio-Beta  16_Acoustics-Fields-lecture-students-Juhani-Risku-architect-acoustician-NTNU-Studio-Beta  16_Acoustics-dB-desibel-no-decimals-Juhani-Risku-architect-acoustician-NTNU-Studio-Beta  16_Acoustics-Haas-effect-bin-aural-hearing-Juhani-Risku-architect-acoustician-NTNU-Studio-Beta  16_Acoustics-Noise-control-muffles-barriers-Juhani-Risku-architect-acoustician-NTNU-Studio-Beta  16_Acoustics-Flanking-transmission-noise-Juhani-Risku-architect-acoustician-NTNU-Studio-Beta  16_Acoustics-space-reflection-diffuse-absorption-Juhani-Risku-architect-acoustician-NTNU-Studio-Beta  16_Acoustics-Bending-sound-acoustic-layers-Juhani-Risku-architect-acoustician-NTNU-Studio-Beta  16_Acoustics-Absorber-types-Juhani-Risku-architect-acoustician-NTNU-Studio-Beta  16_Acoustics-Boston-Vienna-music-hall-lecture-Juhani-Risku-architect-acoustician-NTNU-Studio-Beta  16_Acoustics-La-Scala-Staatsoper-Opera-hall-Juhani-Risku-architect-acoustician-NTNU-Studio-Beta  16_Acoustics-Densifying-sound-field-lecture-Juhani-Risku-architect-acoustician-NTNU-Studio-Beta  16_Acoustics-DIY-advice-hints-lecture-Juhani-Risku-architect-acoustician-NTNU-Studio-Beta  16_Acoustics-design-process-resources-Juhani-Risku-architect-acoustician-NTNU-Studio-Beta  16_Acoustics-Problems-conflicts-lecture-Juhani-Risku-architect-acoustician-NTNU-Studio-Beta

Download PDF of the Architectural acoustics lecture.


* Superficial sketching and form-giving has led to a history of meaningless forms and bad acoustics. In the history, architects travelled to see the best music halls when designing a new one. They studied the halls and tried to plan a better one according to best practices and gradual iterations. Modernism brought the idea of the hero architect who travelled all the best music halls, and planned a different one. This led to the architect’s dilemma: when changing the perfect you end up with a worse solution. Typically the vineyard style halls (like Hans Scharoun’s Berliner Philharmonie, and Helsinki Music Centre by LPR Architects) suffer from reflections from the ceiling. This has led to acoustic reflectors as superficial clouds above the hall. This B-class acoustics origins from the architects choises based on unfortunated lack of skills of architectural composing. Berliner Philharmonie and Helsinki Music Centre are of B-class acoustics compared to AAA-class Boston Philharmonic and Wiener Musikvereinssaal. Unfortunately two truths stay: you can’t upgrade the acoustics of these halls anymore to A-class, and Hans Sharoun can’t study acoustics, anymore.

* Retina guy is the decorator and creator of superficial surfaces of the building (industry). This is the status of the architects in the eyes of heavy-duty engineers. When construction became an industry with financial interests and strict schedules the architect as the owner and leader of the project was replaced by project consultants and project management engineers. Architecture in its higher abstraction was transformed to harmless drawings and part-time involvement, when the engineering consultants, a.k.a. the big boys, overtook the construction business. Now the architect was in line with the excavators, plumbers and decorators. What the engineers needed were the drawings and some prettification. This is the unfortunated faith of the architect of today.

Retina is the image sensor of the visual world in the human eye. The retina interpretes the light signals through the cornea and lens, and doesn’t process anything. Retina is intellectually a dumb messenger between the scenery and the brain. Amongst the engineers, architects have mainly been positioned by in-between-the-project-and-the-idea as decorators and tapisseurs. This has led to overreactions like the hero architect, architectural competitions and award culture so that at least some architects are noticed.


Mr. Juhani Risku is a practicing architect, acoustician and industrial designer. Today he is a researcher and PhD student at the University of Jyväskylä Finland.

Jyväskylä is the “Alvar Aalto City” with Aalto Museum, his Town Center and pre-functionalistic buildings, and the University Campus. In nearby village Säynätsalo, locates Aalto’s well known Säynätsalo Town Hall and Muuratsalo Experimental House. Mr. Risku can be a guide during your visit to Jyväskylä.

Risku, during the work session at Halme Acoustics, participated  projects varying from Alvar Aalto’s and Reima Pietilä’s architecture and best Finnish architectural competition winning cultural buildings and music halls to Heikki Siren‘s Baghdad Conference Palace, his Tripoli Cultural Center, and Timo Penttilä‘s Bahrain Cultural Center. The big halls of these buildings were for 2000-3500 persons each. Also structural and environmental acoustics, and noise control were under planning.

If needed, Mr. Risku can establish the education of acoustics at your university. By the same time you get the whole curriculum, research plan, practical Acoustic Laboratory specifications. The studies of acoustics fit for architect and engineer students as well as for musicians and experimental artists. After three months the students can act as junior consultants in an acoustic design and research team.

Contact Mr. Risku via email juhani.risku{@}  or Linkedin.